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Writer and environmentalist Peter Matthiessen died today at the age of 86; according to this story, he had been ill with leukemia. He was a wonderful writer and a compelling speaker; a strong voice for the preservation of the natural world, for justice and human rights.  

Few authors could claim such a wide range of achievements. Matthiessen helped found The Paris Review, one of the most influential literary magazines, and won National Book Awards for "The Snow Leopard," his spiritual account of the Himalayas, and for the novel "Shadow Country." A leading environmentalist and wilderness writer, he embraced the best and worst that nature could bring him, whether trekking across the Himalayas, parrying sharks in Australia or enduring a hurricane in Antarctica.

He also was a longtime liberal who befriended Cesar Chavez and wrote a defense of Indian activist Leonard Peltier, "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse," that led to a highly publicized, and unsuccessful, lawsuit by an FBI agent who claimed Matthiessen had defamed him.

Though I always think of him as an environmental writer first and foremost, he was so much more.  He started the Paris Review with George Plimpton, and wrote some significant fiction as well, including "At Play in the Fields of the Lord".  I feel lucky to have heard him speak several times.  Though he wrote on some weighty topics, he was a lively and entertaining speaker.  
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Sun Mar 30, 2014 at 06:04 AM PDT

Dawn Chorus: Ravens and Crows

by lineatus

Common Ravens, headlands

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Icterids. Personally, I love 'em.  But what the hell kind of name is that?

srsly, wtf?

I started writing about blackbirds, and then I veered into writing about a few of their cousins and pretty soon it was all the icterids, and then I got interested in the origin of the name... and here we are.  Per Wikipedia (which is never wrong as far as I know),

The name, meaning "jaundiced ones" (from the prominent yellow feathers of many species) comes from the Ancient Greek ikteros, through the Latin ictericus. This group includes the New World blackbirds, New World orioles, the Bobolink, meadowlarks, grackles, cowbirds, oropendolas and caciques.
Okay, they say yellow but I know orange when I see it.
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Sun Feb 16, 2014 at 06:00 AM PST

Dawn Chorus: Do Something!

by lineatus

There is a bit of a paradox about volunteering.  You give your time and get no pay, yet so often you get more out of it than you give.

I work full time, so my nights and weekends are precious free time.  Yet I am happy to give up that time for volunteer work; in most years, it averages out to 8 hours worth of volunteer time each and every week.  

pefa asy release
I would do this for free any day.

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More to the point:  Anyone photograph any birds?

Last week, SF Kossacks had two esteemed out-of-area visitors, which was all the excuse we needed for a birding trip.  One of them (matching mole) was kind enough to provide a wish list back in November, and discussions in the comments added a few more.  A quick glance at the list suggested an obvious place to go - Solano County and Woodbridge Road.  We weren't going to get them all but we had a pretty good chance for everything except Red-throated Loon.  Well, you can't be greedy about these things.

Not a bird, but an interesting sighting at Cosumnes Preserve.

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Sun Jan 26, 2014 at 06:00 AM PST

Dawn Chorus: Not this again...

by lineatus

It’s a mixed bag out there.  You’ve got your yard set up to attract birds – feeders, baths, maybe some native plants and brushpiles.   But as with any open house buffet, you’re likely to get a few guests who don’t behave as well as you’d like.

Adult Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

At best, the others don’t want to hang out with them.   Sometimes they get violent, and occasionally kill and eat the other guests...  really does dampen the mood, ya know?  

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Sun Dec 08, 2013 at 06:00 AM PST

Dawn Chorus: Alien Invasion!!1!

by lineatus

If this was Fox Noise, I could whip up a frenzy describing how our fine, native birds are under siege from alien hordes...  but, nah. Although I might keep with their anti-elitist tone and curse Shakespeare (just this once).

Few things illustrate the law of unintended consequences better than invasive species.

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First, the standard disclaimer:  Past performance does not guarantee future results.  That said, if Friday was any indication, we could have a great day with matching mole on 1/26.  

When he said he would be visiting the Bay Area and was up for a day of birding with local Kossacks, I asked if he had a wish list of species he'd like to see.  Based on his list, I think a trip to Solano County and the Delta is the best plan.  For example, this is what we saw as soon as we turned onto Branscombe Road for the start of the "official" trip:
Adult Red-tailed Hawk (front pole) and Adult Ferruginous Hawk (rear pole).  

How's that for a compare and contrast opportunity?  Not bad, but if you really want to compare....

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Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 06:04 AM PST

Dawn Chorus: Last Minute

by lineatus


Gorgeous, no?  An adult redtail who visited yesterday.  One of only two birds who stopped by when I was banding, but definitely worth all the hours in the blind.

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Those bleak, boring days of summer are past!  Now that we're into the short, cold days of November, the fun begins.

Fall migration has been interesting this year, to be sure.  The blue-footed boobies are still hanging out up and down the coast.  Unfortunately, the shutdown screwed up our enjoyment somewhat by closing parks and beaches.  But that's all in the past, and now we can look forward to visiting our favorite spots and welcoming our winter visitors.

rtha_2834 leuc
Leucistic Red-tailed Hawk

Put on your winter whites and join me below....

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I love Bodega Bay, get there several times a year.  But yesterday I would much rather have been banding.  However, thanks the ongoing tantrum by the GOP, the shutdown made that impossible.  We operate in a National Recreation area and are not allowed to access the banding blinds.  We have lost nearly two weeks worth of data at the peak of the season.  People doing informal counts around the area during this period have recorded several days with huge flights.  We can go back to banding, hawkwatching and telemetry when the shutdown ends, but we'll never get this peak back.

The Headlands... in sight, and off limits.

So time for Plan B.

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Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 06:00 AM PDT

Dawn Chorus: I'm with the band

by lineatus

For a bander, the moment of releasing a bird is bittersweet.  After this brief overlap in lives, the bird is now on its way to continue its journey (yea!) but in all likelihood, we'll never (knowingly) see that bird again.  If we ever hear anything about it, it will probably be because the bird has died (hopefully some years later).  

Continue your journeys safely.

Sometimes we get lucky and someone is able to read the band number on a live bird, thanks to the combination of optics and the occasional digital camera.  That's usually limited to larger birds like redtails, whose bands are big enough that the numbers can be seen in the field.  Even then it's tough because the number wraps around the leg and you need to see enough of it to make a positive ID.

This year, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory is making it easier to tell if we're encountering an old friend.

Hope to see you again someday...

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